Annual Evaluation

December 16, 2011

Wannado List

I have a shelf filled with black day planners; years worth of them that I simply cannot throw away. I’m a pretty active journal keeper, but I view the daily/monthly planners as an extension of my journals. They give me a more detailed, day-to-day view of what was going on for me in, say, 1994. You might be surprised how often I reference back to these books. Evidently, they really do contain “need to know” bits for me.

For many years, I preferred the AT-A-GLANCE® QuickNotes® Weekly/Monthly Planner. I like being able to see both a month and a week at a time. I like the big and the small picture. More recently, my love of Moleskin journals led me to covet Moleskin planners. In fact, when Lynn and I violated our “buy nothing” rule on Black Friday by going to Dick Blick’s, I pulled the one I wanted for 2012 off of the shelf and put it in Lynn’s basket. Ready for the new year.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, per se, but usually at some point during the holiday weekend, I pull out my new planner and turn to the blank pages that precede the calendar section; the pages for notes and memos and such. Then, I begin to fill the page with things I hope to accomplish in the coming months or year. I start out by reviewing the same page from the previous year’s book and copy over the still pending items from that list (at least the ones I still care about). I don’t feel badly if I’ve not achieved something* and I’ll add to the list as the months pass. It’s not a “to do” list, not a “bucket list”, but simply a list of things that I’ve likely, at some point or another, claimed I’d like to do.

Several of my items from the past couple of years have been associated with music. I wanted to play my mandolin better, thus I wanted to start taking lessons (check!). I also knew that playing my mandolin better would come only by playing more often and by playing with other people. I wanted to perform. I wanted to be in the band. I wanted to be on stage. These were all carryover “wannados”, because like my wish to get involved in community theater, I’d been saying and thinking and wanting them for awhile. But it was really hard to get over the anxiety that these wants evoked. I am NOT shy to stand up in front of people and talk. It’s second nature to me. Doing something that’s easy is always … well … easier than something that requires you to stretch a bit. For me, it was really hard to step up and play an instrument – to fumble through and miss chords or notes. It’s really hard to willingly stand up in front of others and make mistakes.

But back in September, my friend Chrissy had her birthday party at a pub in town. It was on a Sunday, open mic night. It was a fundraiser for the Worcester Animal Refuge League. She wanted friends to come and enjoy the evening, and to perform if they could. I decided that, for Chrissy’s birthday, I’d give it a shot. I practiced 2 songs that I knew pretty well and I showed up that night with my mandolin in hand. Encouraged by many, when it was my turn I went up to the mic and I sang and played my songs. It was over in a few minutes and I was too embarrassed to really even enjoy the fact that people applauded. But at the same time, I was proud of myself AND I realized that it was an awful lot of fun. Really fun.

Since that night, I’ve played at a bunch of open mics, I’ve met a bunch of new friends, and last night, sat in as a guest on a few songs with a couple of friends who had a real gig at the pub. I got a set list emailed to me a few days before, I practiced, and I showed up and played. And like all of the other times, it was terrific fun.

”]Sitting down for lunch this afternoon, I opened my planner and looked over my list, thinking how I’ll be reviewing and transferring pieces of it to the new book in a few weeks. It made me smile to know I’ve met a few of my dreams for the year – and one of them being pretty big.

*Unless it’s related to a widening mid-section.

An Illustrated Status Update

August 21, 2011

“What’s on your mind?”

What' I'm Eating

What I'm Drinking

What's Playing on the Stereo

What I Left Beside My Bed When I Got Up This Morning

What's Downloading into My iTunes Library

What's Waiting for Me on My Drawing Table

Pretty much, this is what I call multitasking.

Practice Makes Perfect Permanence

July 13, 2011

Two sayings, each with truth:

  • “Practice makes perfect.”
  • “Practice makes permanent.”

The first is familiar to most. We’ve heard it often. Anyone subjected to insert musical instrument lessons knows the answer to the question, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice, practice. The second, interestingly enough, I learned from a musical instrument instructor, a mandolin teacher I had once. His point – practice the wrong things, the wrong way, and you’ll end up permanently doing things wrong.

The common denominator of both sayings though, obviously, is that in order to get really good at anything (correctly or not) is to practice. A lot. Lots of people are richly talented. They come out of the womb with innate abilities to do things – draw, write, make music, understand quantum physics. We often see them perform or see the results of their talent and think to ourselves, “I could never do that.” There’s surely some truth to that saying, too. Sometimes. Talent is a gift to be thankful for and some are blessed with more of it than others. Still, I think sometimes we sell both ourselves and those talented people short in that we forget to recognize the really important role that practice plays in bringing out the full richness of one’s talent(s).

This morning, before getting out of bed, I finished Jeannette Walls’ memoir, The Glass Castle. I’ll not comment on the book here except to say it is, all at once, incredible and unbelievable, hopeful and infuriating. It’s definitely worth reading. But what I thought about as I closed the cover, got dressed, and took Zeb for his morning walk, was how Jeannette Walls became such a good writer. She had a story to tell, for sure, but she tells it well because she’s a good writer and she became a good writer by first reading and then writing. A lot.

As a child, she (as well as her parents and siblings) devoured books. She read and read and read. She describes fond memories of her family sitting together in the living room of some shack they occupied at the time, all reading together. They didn’t watch TV together – in part because they had no television, let alone any electricity to run one – but instead sat together, each in their own world of whatever story they were reading at the time. And she loved this.

As she entered high school, she started working on the school paper. She started editing and typesetting. She started writing. She wrote about everything. Hardly any other students wanted to work on the paper and so she wrote the stories of football games, class events and school board decisions. She left West Virginia as a teenager to join her older sister in New York City and soon found a job writing for a weekly paper there. She wrote and wrote and wrote, as she had read and read and read, and in doing so the talent that she discovered at 13 or so, developed and ultimately became her livelihood and her career. She is a writer.

The same story line can be traced for practically anyone who has become really good at what they do. How many millions of hours has your favorite musician practiced? What artist is ever found without a sketchbook in his or her bag? The Dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences where I work always has a nice black Moleskin notebook with him whenever I see him (I have a thing for journals and take note when I see one), as do others I know who think a lot, ask questions a lot, and try to solve problems a lot.

Scientists do a thousand experiments that go wrong before they experience the “Aha!” moment. Julia Child likely went through skeins of twine before she could tie that chicken up just right. Really good baseball players “only” hit .300 and no one’s come close to a .400 season in a long, long time now. That’s a lot of strikeouts and a lot of ground balls and a lot of pop ups in between the singles and the homeruns.

I may never write as well as Annie Dillard, play the mandolin like Chris Thile, run a marathon as fast as Joan Benoit Samuelson, or even be a library director like Jean Shipman – all people I admire for how they do what they do. But to say one will never be something without putting in the practice is much different than saying so while at the same time, showing up every day and working hard at what you enjoy and want to do.

So now I’ll head to work in the library where I’ve an article to finish, knowing that I’ve primed my writing brain by taking some time this morning for reading and writing. I’ll draw some pictures during lunch. I’ll slog through another slow, slow pace as I put in the miles training for the Chicago Marathon this fall. And then I’ll watch the recap of today’s Tour de France stage while I practice over and over that little riff Howie showed me on my mandolin. And it’ll be a good day.

Here’s hoping you have the same.